The National Museum of Finland

We visited the National Museum of Finland on the first full day of our recent stay in Helsinki – on the Sunday afternoon after we’d been to the Didrichsen Art Museum. It tells the story of Finland and its people, going right back to the pre-historic times and is definitely worth a visit to get an understanding of this relatively young nation.

The museum is in a distinctive Finnish National Romantic style building, designed by architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen, directly opposite the Finlandia Hall, close to the city centre. The exterior is rather austere and influenced by medieval architecture but with some Art Nouveau / Jugendstil touches.

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Inside includes murals and other Finnish style Jugendstil features, particularly in the central hall and main staircase. It’s hard to do justice to the ceiling mural in the central entrance hall which depicts scenes from the Kalevala, the Finnish national myth.

There were some beautiful stained glass windows on the main staircase

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The first half of the museum concentrates on the history of Finland from the Middle Ages to the foundation of the independent Finnish State in 1917 (after the Russian Revolution). It’s what I would call a traditional type of museum with lots of artefacts presented in a relatively static way with limited interaction. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting and we learned quite a bit about the history of Finland when it was a colony of Sweden and then, later, a Russian Grand Duchy.

The Medieval room

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A recreated room from the 18th Century when Finland was a Swedish colony – the large white “cabinet” is a ceramic heater – needed in the depths of the Finnish winter!

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The throne used by the Tsar during his visit to Finland when it was under Russian Imperial influence

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The second half of the museum, covering the modern era from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present day was very modern in style with lots of interactive and hands-on displays including this interactive panorama of Helsinki at the end of the Russian era

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and a “book” where the content was projected on to blank pages.

Nationalist feeling was growing in Finland at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century – which is reflected in the Jugenstil and National Romantic architecture so prevalent in Helsinki. After the fall of the Tsar, taking opportunity of the Bolshevik policy of  National Determination, Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917. A Civil War followed between “Reds” and conservative “Whites”, the latter eventually being victorious.

At the beginning of WWII Finland was attacked by Soviet Russia leading to a bitter “Winter War” where the much smaller country defeated the Red Army, yet the Moscow Peace treaty ceded territory to Russia. There was a period of peace before war resumed in autumn 1941 when Russia was preoccupied with defending itself from the German invasion.  Power relations had changed and The USSR were now allied with Great Britain, which resulted in the latter declaring war on Finland on 6 December., and Finland was supported by, if not allied with, the Nazis. I felt that although much was made of the hardship and heroics of the Winter War (quite rightly), this aspect was rather glossed over.

After WWII Finland was in a difficult position with a long border with the USSR and and had to balance carefully between the big powers maintaining a neutral stance. Like the other Nordic countries it developed a strong welfare state which largely remains today despite some economic difficulties and the rise of the Nationalist right who are now in Government.

Last year was the Centenary of the founding of the Finnish state and the final exhibit in this part of the Museum was a film show with an image of a Finn from each year from 1917 until 2017 projected on a large screen. Visitors could control both the direction of the film (past to present or vice versa) and the speed.

As we were about to leave the museum we realised we’d missed a whole section devoted to prehistoric Finland, so we went to have a look. Again, it was an interesting exhibition, well presented in a modern way.

Given it’s position in the frozen north, early population was sparse and life would have been hard so no major civilisations developed like in more temperate environments. However there was some migration after the last Ice Age and a number of artefacts were displayed, such as weapons and jewellery.

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as well as displays and models about the environment and how people lived.

We enjoyed our visit to the Museum. There was more  to see and we could have spent longer there, but we were starting to feel tired so it was time to head back to our hotel for a rest and to get ready to go out for something to eat.

 

A walk to Kallio

On the Tuesday during my stay in Helsinki my wife had flown back home so I had the rest of the week on my own. I was working during the day but the course I was running finished at 5 I had the evening to occupy myself. I’m not one for sitting in hotel rooms just working and as it was light until late, I took the opportunity to explore the city.

A prominent landmark in Helsinki is the tower of a church up on a hill in the Kallio district. It can be seen from all over the city. I knew that it had been designed by the Finnish architect Lars Sonck, who is well known for his Jugendstil style buildings, so I decided to wander over to take a look. I could have caught the tram but decided that it was within walking distance and I needed some exercise!

I walked past the front of the railway station and then cut across past the Finnish National Theatre to the Kaisanemi park. The trees were still bare of leaves, Spring not having quite arrived in Helsinki. Heading diagonally across the park, I passed this statue, Convolvulus, by Viktor Jansson, the father of Tove Jansson, the artist and author of the Moomin books, who modelled for the sculpture. The pose made me think that she was practicing karate or Tai Chi!

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After crossing the bridge over the Pitkäsilta bridge I turned left, walking along the waterside. A little way along on my right I could see the Paasitorni, also known as the Helsinki Workers’ House, a Jugendstil building designed by Karl Lindahl, built from granite, which opened in 1908 as conference and leisure premises for the working class. It’s very characteristic of the Finnish National Romanticism Jugendstil style.

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On the square in front of the main entrance to the building I spotted this statue of two boxers by Johannes Haapasalo.

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Cutting back round to Siltasaarenkatu, I walked up the hill towards the church. It’s an imposing granite structure standing on top of the hill and, like the Paasitorni, built in the Finnish National Romanticism Jugendstil style.

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It’s an impressive building; solid and imposing but with some delicate decorative touches.

I had a look inside, but it looked as if a service was about to start to I snapped a few photos but felt it would be inappropriate to look around.

I spent a lttle time wandering round the nearby streets. Kallio, although originally a workers’ district has become gentrified and has something of a bohemian reputation.  I was also surprised by the number of “massage parlours” close to the church so Kallio clearly has a “red light district”, but not as blatant as Amsterdam.

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Heading back towards the city centre, near Paasitorni, I turned right and walked along the shore of Eläintarhanlahti

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and then over the railway bridge to Töölönlahti. These are both seawater lakes connected to each other and the sea by narrow straights. I walked south along the eastern shore from where there were views across to the Opera and Finlandia Hall.

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It was only a short distance back to my hotel.

 

Two East End Buildings

One of my main objectives during my mooch around Spitalfields last week was to have a look at a couple of Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau buildings  in the area, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. He was a Scouser – well, almost, he was born in Birkenhead – who moved to London in 1880.

The first of the two buildings was the Whitechapel gallery, a short distance down Whitechapel from Aldgate where I’d been working. I’d been there a few times before to visit exhibitions and always admired the building with it’s twin towers and massive, off-centre round arch above the front door.

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It’s creamy stone stands out in a street of dark brick buildings. In a number of ways, with it’s solid stone construction and relatively but curved surfaces, it rather reminds me of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, particularly the Glasgow School of Art.

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Originally, it was intended that the upper part of the facade would be filled with mosaics by the renowned Arts and Crafts designer Walter Crane, but these were never completed. However, today there’s a lovely metallic frieze of leaves and branches by Rachael Whiteread that was installed just a few years ago.

The gallery was founded  1901, intended to bring art to the working classes of East London, and was one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in the Capital.

The second building was on Bishopgate at the far side of Spitalsfields and close to Liverpool Street Station – The Bishopgate Institute.

Like the Whitechapel Gallery, it has a broad semi-circular arched entrance and twin towers, in this case topped by ornate, multifacetted turrets. It has a different look, though – a little more traditional, more ornate and influenced by Romanesque and Byzantine architecture.

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There are beautiful friezes above the entrance and towards the top of the towers, representing the Tree of Life. It was difficult to get a photo of them – the street was busy with commuters at rush hour, but I’ve done my best to enlarge sections of my pictures of the building

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According to the Institute’s website

The original aims of the Institute were to provide a public library, public hall and meeting rooms for people living and working in the City of London. The Great Hall in particular was ‘erected for the benefit of the public to promote lectures, exhibitions and otherwise the advancement of literature, science and the fine arts’.

So both buildings reflect the Art and Crafts Movement’s dedication to the cause of social progress (and, in may cases, Socialism) by providing facilities for the education and enlightenment of the working class. It’s good to see that both buildings are still being used for the purposes originally intended.

Charles Harrison Townsend designed another Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau building, the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, South London. I’ve had a look at some pictures of the Museum on the web and it’s now on the bucket list. It’s not so far from the Dulwich Picture Gallery so perhaps I can arrange to combine a visit to both of them.

A wander round Den Haag

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After our visit to the Mauritshuis we decided to explore the town and grab a bite to eat. It was a cold, grey day, so not so great for sightseeing and taking photos, and we hadn’t really done any research about the sights, so we restricted ourselves to a brief, unstructured walk in the older area to the west of the museum, stopping off in a café for hot drink and a bite to eat.

The Mauritshuis is next to the Binnehof, the home of the Dutch Parliament. Despite this, security was minimal and we were able to walk right through the central courtyard

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This is the Royal residence in the city, the Noordeinde Palace. It’s currently used as a “working palace” by the KIng.

DSC03132 Meandering through the old streets I was reminded a little of Brussels. Like the Belgian capital the streets were lined with individually designed buildings rather than regimented rows.And like Brussels, there were quite a few Art Nouveau influenced buildings. There was clearly much more to see but time was limited and it was cold! Here’s a few photos of some of the more interesting buildings we saw.

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These are some of the Art Nouveau/ Jugendstil style, or influenced, buildings I spotted

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This building, with it’s decorative brickwork, looked like it was influenced by the Amsterdam School, although there are also some Art Decoish features

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This rather grand former restaurant is now the home of the Pathe Cinema

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We had a peek inside

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Amsterdam Oud Zuid architecture

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During our recent trip to Amsterdam we were staying on the edge of the area known as Oud Zuid (the Old South) on Stadionplein, directly across from the Olympic Stadium. The area was developed at the beginning of the 20th Century. Travelling on the tram to and from the city centre I’d noticed that many of the buildings had features that suggested that they’d been designed by architects from the Amsterdam School, so I decided to go for a bit of a mooch and look into this further.

The area was developed under the Plan Zuid, which was designed by the architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage and many of the architects were from the Amsterdam School.

Although the  Amsterdam School movement is considered to be part of international Expressionist architecture, there are features reminiscent of both Art Nouveau and Art Deco in their buildings. As with most architectural movements, each building has it’s own features, but there are some common characteristics.

  • The architects’ emphasis was on the outward appearance of a building and less on its functionality – “Form before function”
  • the buildings are mainly constructed from bricks – often different shapes, textures and and colours of brick are used.
  • The windows are often eye-catching shapes,
  • There is great attention to detail and ornamentation, including sculptures, wrought iron decorations and stained-glass windows.
  • The facades often have curves and bulges, concave and convex shapes
  • The corner buildings or buildings at the end of a complex, often emphasized by a tower-like element.
  • The entrances and staircases are often highlighted by a special shape or decorations in stone or wrought iron.

I spent a good couple of hours wandering around the streets snapping photos, even though it was rather grey and cold with some rain showers. Here’s a few of the pictures I took.

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Windows and doors tend to be particularly ornate

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Although most of the buildings were residential blocks, I did spot a few individual houses with characteristic Amsterdam School features

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The Hatrack

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This distinctive tall, slender, Art Nouveau style listed building at 142 St Vincent St, Glasgow, is popularly known as the Hatrack

It was designed by James Salmon Jnr a contemporary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh Salmon, who was affectionately nicknamed “the Wee Troot”, a play on his name (Troot = Trout) and short stature. He was also one of the architects of the Anderston Savings Bank I stumbled upon during my last visit to the city.

The building was constructed between 1899 and 1902. Its name was inspired by the cupola, which has projecting finials that resemble the “pegs” of a hat rack. It was difficult to get a decent snap of it from street level so this is my best effort.

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Above the entrance to the building is an attractive stained glass oriel window with the design of a sailing ship on top of a sculpture of what appears to be a mythical dragon.

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The front of the building is a curtain wall supported on a concrete frame and is mainly glass with only a bare minimum of decorative sandstone. It does rather remind me of a more slender version of Oriel Chambers, built in Liverpool in 1874 and designed by the revolutionary architect, Peter Ellis. This resemblance and likely influence is also noted on the Scotcities website.

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The Martyr’s School

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I’d spotted that the hotel where I was staying in Glasgow was about a 20 minute walk away from one of the earliest buildings associated with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, so I decided to wander over and take a look.

The red sandstone Martyrs’ School on Parson Street in Townhead, to the north of Glasgow city centre, in the same street where Mackintosh was born. It was designed in 1895, around the same time as the Glasgow Herald Building (today known as the Lighthouse). The architects were Honeyman and Keppie, Mackintosh’s employers, who were commissioned by the Glasgow School Board. At the time, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a senior assistant in the practice and his influence can be seen in the building, especially in the details.

When it was built it was surrounded by working class tenement buildings but today they have been demolished.

Interestingly the last of his Glasgow buildings was another school – the Scotland Street School to the south of the Clyde.

Apparently, the inside of the building has a number of features designed by Mackintosh, but it isn’t open to the public so I couldn’t get inside so had to be content with looking around the outside. The late afternoon light wasn’t brilliant and my photos aren’t so great, unfortunately.

The front and rear entrances certainly bear the hallmarks of Mackintosh

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as well as the upper floor on the west side of the building

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